In the UK, it feels like no one knows where they stand when it comes to Brexit. As the clock runs down on negotiations, few answers about legislations, regulations, or whether we’ll leave with a deal are forthcoming. That Brexit will affect all of us in different ways is certain but how, and even when, remains to be seen.
Professionals can feel the effect of uncertainty in many industries, but what can freelancers do to protect themselves? There are ways not only to shore up your profits and revenue streams, but to make the transition work for you.
For the next few months at least, Brexit confusion seems set to continue. But the first thing freelancers can do to give themselves certainty is to stay informed.
How will Brexit affect my international clients?
We know that businesses most likely to be affected by a departure from the EU are those dealing in imports and exports. As such, the UK government tax department HMRC is providing guidance. Reading up and getting ready for the worst outcomes can only stand your business in good stead.
The Irish government has also launched Prepare For Brexit, a website offering information to businesses about how they can best manage Brexit’s impact. The guidance focuses on the Irish perspective (from within the EU) so it’s useful for those with European clients, but is still applicable in many ways to those in Britain.
Beyond official government advice, business expert Erica Wolfe-Murray recommended paying attention to what’s happening in your clients’ industries. She explained, “It’s about being inventive around what you do, looking at who you’re supplying, thinking about what’s impacting their markets, who else could step into that marketplace. You’ve got to constantly have your radar on.”
Should I anticipate changes in clientele because of Brexit?
A dramatic shift in client base is something freelance content writer and photographer Matt Mason has experienced first-hand. “My e-commerce client base collapsed this year. I no longer have work from online web retailers despite them being [around] 80 percent of my client base just four years ago. I put its severity down to the value of the pound and import prices,” he said.
Mason’s experience shows the value of understanding not just what’s happening to your clients, but what’s happening with businesses further up the food-chain. “Small tech businesses rely on investor and partner funding from SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) and in turn, they from larger businesses,” he explained. “As big businesses pull out, SMEs lose work, [meaning] fewer opportunities for start-ups and much less writing work. Start-ups are doing this in-house already, I suspect, and turning to people like me only when they’ve grown enough.”
But keeping informed about what might be affecting revenue shouldn’t stop at your clients. Financial coach Linda Davies Carr said it’s worth seeking expert advice for your own business during times of uncertainty, particularly about financial aspects likely to change like VAT. She added, “Ensure you are working with a credible accountant who will be able to guide you with the new regulation. Don’t try and get by doing your own bookkeeping — put yourself and your business in the hands of an expert.”
Can freelancers actually benefit from Brexit?
Staying informed isn’t just a method of reducing loss, it can also be a proactive way to boost your revenue. Wolfe-Murray argued the post-Brexit transition period may present new opportunities for those able to be flexible. She explained, “Freelancers can pivot their business very fast and therein lies an opportunity if you spot something [that’s changing because of Brexit]. It could only be for three to four months. [Ask yourself] how can I pivot my business to a new audience who may only exist for a short period of time?”
James Ravensford of Ravensford Consultancy agreed: “Brexit will shake things up and freelance operatives should be ready to take full advantage. We have seen more work come in [to our business] during the confusion surrounding Brexit.”
As well as continually prospecting for new business, Wolfe-Murray suggested looking at existing clients for potential new opportunities. “Depending on what your business is and what your skill is, it could be that several other different departments [in a client company] could use [them],” she reasoned. “You can’t just have one connection in that supply chain. You need as many different people as you can get who will give you work.”
What if Brexit slows my freelance income down?
If business does slow down, a dry spell can be a useful time to plan for the future and invest time in areas you may have neglected. This is something Mason has found fruitful. “I used some of my quiet time to think about the types of client I should aim to attract,” he told me. “I had to really niche down to attract the new clients I have. I no longer market myself as a multi-skilled writer of professional blog content for B2B and B2C clients, but as an education and recruitment writer.”
Mason’s loss of content writing clients is also leading him to explore other avenues. “The time also allowed me to focus a little on passive income,” he said, “like writing fiction and photography. I don’t expect to earn a great deal from these sources, but it would be nice.”
Diversifying revenue streams is never a bad strategy, but Wolfe-Murray also recommended working with what you already have. “Freelancers really need to understand what their intellectual assets are. What have they got in the store cupboard that they can repurpose in new and different ways in an uncertain market? That will give them all sorts of new products and services.”
While businesses in the industries in which your clients operate may be contracting, that doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of income for you. As Wolfe-Murray explained, “some companies are already starting to shrink their workforce [but they] still need the work done so they’re looking to a freelancer where they’re not having to pay the ongoing costs of employment.”
Ultimately, is Brexit good or bad for freelance workers?
Ravensford does see potential opportunities for freelancers, even as businesses decide to relocate outside of the UK. He said, “In time, I believe the closed borders will offer further opportunities. European companies will use UK based freelancers, rather than set up their own offices. Trade will need more middlemen to be accomplished. Less efficient? Sure. But that’s an opportunity for the freelance and self-employed.”
While it may sometimes feel like we need a crystal ball to predict the impact of Brexit on freelance businesses, there are plenty of ways to make any outcome more positive for yours. And, as Ravensford put it, “whatever deal is agreed will need new approaches to old problems. The future may be uncertain but it will be full of social, political and economic change, and that always means new fortunes to be made.”
Aimée Grant Cumberbatch is a freelance writer and the contributing editor for Bustle UK. You can find her byline in the Evening Standard, BBC, Independent, and more. She has a special interest in creating content that helps women thrive.
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